Monday, May 26, 2008


Agassiz Again on Wasting Time

Another early account of Louis Agassiz's view of wasting time, from Edwin Percy Whipple, "Recollections of Agassiz," in Recollections of Eminent Men (1886; rpt. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin: 1893), pp. 78-79:
From him came the most notable of all the maxims which illustrate the disinterestedness of the chivalry of science. At the time he was absorbed in some minute investigations in a difficult department of zoölogy, he received a letter from the president of a lyceum at the West, offering him a large sum for a course of popular lectures on natural history. His answer was: "I CANNOT AFFORD TO WASTE MY TIME IN MAKING MONEY." The words deserve to be printed in capitals; but Agassiz was innocently surprised that a sentiment very natural to him should have excited so much comment. He knew that scores of his brother scientists, American and European, would have used the words "afford" and "waste" in the same sense, had they been similarly interrupted in an investigation which promised to yield them a new fact or principle. Still, the announcement from such an authority that there was a body of men in the United States who could not afford to waste time in making money had an immense effect. It convinced thousands of intelligent and opulent men of business, who had never before thought a moment of time devoted to the making of money could be wasted, that science meant something; and it made them liberal of their money when it was asked for scientific purposes. It did even more than this, — it made them honor the men who were placed above the motives by which they themselves were ordinarily influenced.
But this is still more than a decade after Agassiz's death in 1873.

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